The Three Es of Learning


With everything going on today in the world, the transition back to school this year is bringing on more stress than usual. Whether you’re going to have school in person or online, nothing feels quite “right” and many children, parents, and educators are overwhelmed. 

With little control over the situation, how do we make sure we are still providing a solid foundation for learning?  One thing we can do to start is to think about how children really learn.   

In this 7-minute video interview that Dr. Rebecca Branstetter and I did with Kristen Baisden, a school psychologist, and professor at California State University in Sacramento and an expert in Positive Discipline she explains the “Three Es of Positive Discipline,” she provides insight on how children learn and what all parents and educators can focus on to help children right now! 

What is Positive Discipline? 

First off, Kristen explains that Positive Discipline is a child’s guidance model developed by Dr. Jane Nelsen and is based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs.  This model provides the underlying principle that all children need to feel a sense of belonging and significance and teaches important communication and life skills in a respectful manner. Kristen explains that “The positive refers to the connection and the discipline refers to teaching.”  

In order to teach effectively, we need to understand how children learn.  Kristen explains that there are the three E’s that pertain to how children really absorb information in a meaningful way which are by Experience, by Example and with Empathy 

1) Learning by Experience 

For better or worse, children learn by doing and experience is the best teacher. All experiences are social and emotional experiences and can be embraced as teachable moments. Hands-on and experiential learning provides the full-body, sensory and emotional engagement and input that makes learning stick, even if things don’t go as planned. “The road to wisdom is paved with mistakes,” Kristen says. Further, “The mistakes made early in life are far more affordable than those made later and are wisdom builders.”  Another pearl of wisdom from Kristen is that one of the best ways that children learn by experience is through play.   

2)  Learning by Example  

Children learn far more from watching us as models and the examples we provide versus the lectures that we give them. Whether we like it or not, our children are watching and listening to what we say and do.  Their brains pick up on the visual and auditory cues (what they see and hear) automatically and that information is impeded and connected to other stimuli that they are trying to make sense of.   

They are learning things by observing and this is so important for us to think about, now more than ever, as they have more idle time in the home with fewer people to provide them with these experiences and examples. 

3)  Learning with Empathy

Empathy is when you put yourself in someone else's shoes and really think about their experience, thoughts, and feelings rather than just your own.  Kristen says that “With empathy, kids actually are being able to learn from their mistakes versus anger, which allows them to blame us for their mistakes.”  

Building a strong sense of empathy helps children become more secure and strong within their relationships with parents, educators, and other children.  It also supports acceptance and understanding of others and promotes well-being within themselves. 

How do we lead with empathy?  Kristen provides some simple and practical ways that we can use our words with children to show empathy and connect with them in challenging situations (we call these pitfall situations).   



You’re okay!

Are you okay?

That’s enough!!

I’m here to help. 

Is there anything you need?

Calm down right now!

How can I help?

You need to deal with this!

We can get through this together.

What are a few things that you notice with these examples?  They are supportive in nature which is an example of empathy and builds rapport and connection.  They are questions instead of demands. Questions build collaboration and help the child get into their own thinking brain vs. being told what to do. And these phrases are simple with few words--which is more effective and easier for children to pay attention to. 

For more scripts on how to engage children, here is a FREE downloadable PDF with more examples.

Final Tips for Positive Parenting

Kristen also mentions that tone of voice is so important.  Which is often something we are not aware of but makes a big difference. Try to listen for your volume and play with lowering it significantly and see if that makes a difference. Use a neutral tone, avoid sarcasm and think about your facial expressions that are more flat and show empathy. 

When we use this type of language, both verbal and nonverbal and think about leaning in with empathetic examples during our interactions with our children, we increase the likelihood of turning on the child’s frontal lobe which stimulates their thinking, reasoning, problem-solving brain and helps them with self-regulation.  Kristen explains that this opens their heart and mind to learning.  And when the adult (parent, caregiver or educator) is practicing this type of sincerity and being genuine, they are also in the frontal lobe of the brain and ability to think and react in ways that build positive and long-lasting learning. 

We are grateful for Kristen for sharing this information and also for being part of our online parenting program, Make it Stick Parenting where she provides more suggestions and ideas from the work of Positive Discipline.  

To be in touch with Kristen directly or follow here: 

For more information about Positive Discipline:


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